SAN ANTONIO — After enduring nearly 20 days of Covid-19 protocol, San Antonio FC returned to the pitch on Saturday night at Toyota Field and defeated the league-best El Paso Locomotive 2-1 on a last-second goal by Justin Dhillon.
The win is the second straight for San Antonio, who played their first match since August 8 after two matches were postponed due to Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
“I’m just so proud of the guys,” said SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina. “With what we have had to endure the last few weeks it’s been incredibly difficult. We preach resilience and that’s what the guys showed tonight. They did everything they could on the field. They battled, they fought, and they earned the three points.”
San Antonio opened the scoring in the 32nd minute when Jose Gallegos found Marcus Epps, who beat the El Paso goalkeeper with a shot into the far post to put SAFC up a goal going into the second half.
El Paso started the second 45 minutes on the attack and their aggressive play paid off in the 54th minute when Sebastian Velasquez finished off a corner kick as his head found the ball off a Nick Ross attempt to level the match at one goal apiece.
Both clubs were desperate to find the go-ahead goal with SAFC goalkeeper Matt Cardone coming up with huge saves. With time running out, Dhillon took Jasser Khmiri’s long ball and dribbled into the box, where he deposited the ball into the net. Dhillon’s goal sealed the victory and send the fans and players into a frenzy of celebrations.
Here are three points from the match:
A hero’s return
Dhillon’s game-winner will stand out as the moment San Antonio’s season turned around if they make it into the playoffs. His veteran presence has been key for a young SAFC team in a truly trying season.
With his game-winner, Dhillon scored his fourth goal of the season. Along with his goal, he added two shots on target and a 100 percent passing accuracy in 18 minutes.
“Those kind of goals – last-minute winners – attackers dream about those,” Dhillon said. “It’s a home game against the number one team in the league. The whole team has a statement to prove that we can beat any team in this league. It was a dream finish for myself and for the team.”
The victory will likely help San Antonio gain some confidence as they begin a stretch of seven games in 21 days. SAFC currently sits in fourth place in the Mountain Division but is within striking distance of second place.
“El Paso is clearly one of the best if not the best team in our league,” Marcina said. “They have been performing very well. It is an important win for us, especially with what we have had to endure the last few weeks.”
Cardone is a wall
Matt Cardone made his 99th appearance for SAFC and is the club’s all-time leader in regular-season appearances and the 95th USL Championship regular-season appearances.
San Antonio FC is now 7-5-6 (27 points) on the season and will return to the pitch on Wednesday when they welcome Real Monarchs SLC to Toyota Field at 7:30 p.m.